Modern Buddy moderator Eric Almedral has posted the California Air Resources Board approval certificate for the Genuine Stella 150 4T, and confirms that it’ll be available in the U.S. in 2010. My bet is that it’ll be here sooner than later, and probably the Stella and it’s claimed 130MPG will be one of the few bright spots for the scooter industry at DealerExpo in a few weeks.
When we test-rode the bike last year, we didn’t really talk about its importance to the scooter industry and scene. While the U.S scooter market is famously cyclical, there’s ALWAYS a limited market for scooters, and a large fraction of that guaranteed market for new scooters is folks looking to get involved in the everlasting vintage scooter scene. The first choice of any neophyte scooterist is a Vespa, and for ages, the best ‘starter Vespa’ (the most fashionable, affordable, and reliable scooter with at least relatively modern conveniences and widely available spares and accessories) was the Vespa P-series. The P-series remained the top choice of just about anyone entering the ‘scene’ until Vespa stopped importing it to the US in 1985 (largely because of California emissions regutlations), and it remained amazingly popular in Europe and elsewhere until it was discontinued last year. Vespa saw the model as an anachronism for a small target market. Bajaj Auto held on a little longer, even developing a short-lived 4-stroke version, but ultimately felt the same way. But LML is a much smaller company. When the Indian market for metal-bodied manual scooters dried up, Genuine and others stepped in to show that with a little marketing, the 2-stroke LML Star could be rebranded and targeted at first-world customers as a reverently-vintage-styled bike. After almost being done in by labor problems, LML focused on developing a 4-stroke motor to fill demand in lucrative markets like California and other parts of the world where tightening emissions regulations did not allow 2-stroke higher-displacement scooters.
With the “old” stella unavailable in California, and vintage Vespa-P-series bikes getting harder and harder to find, this bike is almost guaranteed success, albeit on a small scale. That small scale is plenty big for Genuine who, arguably above all other U.S. scooter importers, have always had their eye on longevity and sustainability. Vespa’s refusal to give the small American market what it wanted may spell their doom in the long run, as once again, Genuine is offering what Americans want from “a Vespa” better than Vespa can.
Our initial opinion was that on the surface, it’s as identical as a 4-stroke bike could be to a vintage P-series. Aside from the depressing lack of noise from the exhaust*, it’s a very similar riding experience, the good–and bad!–features of the Vespa were preserved perfectly. It’s great to have this vehicle available, but how will it’s long-term reliability compare to the legendary Vespa P? Will DIY maintenance be a thing of the past? Will LML’s still-somewhat-shaky labor situation be able to guarantee supply of bikes and parts for years to come? If Genuine and LML can keep quality high and keep bikes, parts and accessories coming, it’s a sure winner, or at least a guaranteed seller through the lean years ahead. Piaggio will continue to sell craploads more bikes worldwide. But with a great dealer network, well-branded bikes from two different quality manufacturers, an associated wholesale and retail parts business and two more exciting new bikes on the way (the 220efi Blur and their secret “touring scooter”), Genuine is the only American importer really well-positioned to thrive the next few years.
* And I’m not a noise junkie, I hate “loud pipes,” and all that, but if you’re used to riding a two-stroke, you’ll immediately notice the difference in engine sound, and surely be a bit disappointed. (The performance is just right, it’s only the sound!) Those who actually care about the environment, and who don’t know what they’re missing, will be ecstatic, so it’s barely worth mentioning.
Also note: The photo above is the preproduction model sent to CARB and EPA for testing, final design, colors, etc. will vary.